The greatest villain in pro-wrestling history just released the most genuine and heartwarming charity single of the year.
That’s right: “Rowdy Roddy Piper,” declared the number one villain in sports entertainment history by the WWE last year, recently partnered up with Alan Snoddy and The Queen St Band (an all-star group featuring musicians from The E Street Band, Sam Roberts Band and The Trews) to record and release the autobiographical “Off The Top Rope.”
The song, along with a b-side written for Canadian hero Terry Fox, is available for download on iTunes now with all proceeds going to cancer charities.
The story behind “Off The Top Rope’s” genesis is no less fantastical than its existence.
Piper, who's real name is Roderick George Toombs, first met Snoddy when he went to see a show at Toronto’s Comedy Bar with his buddy Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Snoddy, formerly of Stars fame and now a solo artist, was also there with a few friends. After some friendly heckling on Toombs' part, the pair became fast friends and Snoddy suggested working together.
“We started talking and then Alan started to learn about me. And my career has been a very adventurous one, we’ll say,” Toombs tells the Huffington Post. “I’ve been stabbed. I went down in an airplane. I’ve been electrocuted. I’ve had cancer.”
Inspired by the stories the Canadian-born Toombs was telling him, (which is no difficult task given Toombs' incredible tales of getting stuck on a window ledge with Kerry Von Erich, finding out that his bagpipes had been sabotaged by Classy Freddie Blassie, and throwing Muhammad Ali “on his bum”) Snoddy started to write about his new friend.
“I was conveying this to Alan and I wanted something that would give people hope. I was telling him about one of my matches and I said ‘Sometimes you’ve just got to jump in there.’ I told him about Babe Ruth, who was one of the greatest home run hitters ever. He also struck out the most. And Alan says ‘Sometimes you’ve just got to step off the top rope, huh?’ As a metaphor, yeah, folks! You have to have the courage to step off the top rope. That’s how the song started.”
Around the same time, both Toombs and Snoddy both agreed to appear at a pair of benefit shows in Niagara Falls and Toronto for Light of Day, a charity that raises funds for Parkinson’s research and care. This gave Snoddy a great idea.
“The next thing I know, Alan is putting this song together and says ‘We’re going to sing it in Niagara Falls!’” Toombs laughs. “I said, ‘Alan. Who’s we?’”
"We" turned out to be a massive collection of top notch musicians that including long-time Bruce Springsteen colleague Ed Manion from The E Street Band, members of Sam Roberts Band and members of The Trews. And, of course, Alan and Toombs.
Toombs is no stranger to the music world. In his early teens, he played the bagpipes are part of the Toronto Men’s Pipe Band when they placed fifth in the world at the CNE. He’s released a couple of singles over the years, including “For Everybody” from 1985’s The Wrestling Album.
“It went gold!” Toombs says, still a little shocked at the success of an album that featured songs performed by pro wrestling’s top stars. “There are some really great musicians that don’t have gold records.”
He also accidentally kicked one of the '80s most beloved pop stars during a match and terrified another musical icon in the process.
“It was called at the War To Settle The Score in Madison Square Gardens,” he recalls. “And I accidentally kicked Cyndi Lauper! I mean, really! I looked at Dick Clark who was the ring announcer. I just looked at him and he shouted ‘Don’t hurt me!’ and he ran away. And then that made the New York City Police jump in the ring with their guns. It was like ‘Okay, everybody settle down here.’”
Even if the performance in Niagara Calls came with fewer threats of armed intervention, the prospect of performing with such a high calibre of musicians -- without a chance to rehearse with them -- initially intimidated Toombs. But, as his new song says, sometimes you just have to step off the top rope.
“I’ve got all of these unbelievably talented musicians behind me and I just said ‘Let’s go!’ and got up on stage and just let ‘er fly. And the warm feeling in that room. All of those people got up and crowded the stage and it was a really beautiful moment and I was so proud to be there.”
Award-winning filmmaker Aton Sanz-Katz, who was in Niagara Falls to film the Light of Day show, caught all of the magic on camera and put together a video for the single which features footage from the live performance interspersed with clips and highlights from Toombs' life and career.
“Every line in that song is real and it was put there for a reason,” Toombs points out. “One that Alan came up with that I’d never given consideration before, it says ‘I got caught up in a fable and lived a life that you could only dream of.’ I’d never heard it said that way before. Wrestling blew up so big when I was just coming into my prime. I went into a hundred and twenty countries every week. So if I say ‘step off the top rope, you’ve got to take a chance,’ you can go through the song and see how many times I’ve stepped off the top rope.”
While Toombs is eager to raise funds for cancer charities with “Off The Top Rope,” his biggest hope is that the song inspires people.
“It’s to give people hope,” Toombs says. “I left home when I was thirteen and I started my business when I was fifteen. I’m the youngest in history... it’s illegal now. So I’ve been knocked many times... I’ve been very, very fortunate in what God has given me and my family. I’m not a well-educated man, not book smart, but sometimes you can just do magic. You can put a smile on a little boy’s face when the doctor can’t. And that’s what we’re trying to do."